Oman is located on the Arabian Peninsula, east of Saudi Arabia, northeast of Yemen and southeast of the United Arab Emirates. The eastern side of the country is the Arabian Sea. The population of Oman is approximately 4 million with 1.8 million of those being foreigners who have come here to work. The country has been ruled by a monarchy since 1970, and by one man named Sultan Qaboos bin Said. Sultan Qaboos has absolute power over the land creating laws by decree.
Oman exports dates, mother of pearl, and one million barrels of crude oil daily. The people are of the Muslim religion and speak Arabic as the national language. The country has mountains that reach 6,000 feet in elevation but the landscape is volcanic and mostly devoid of vegetation, although rich in iron. Some crops are grown in the 3-month growing season from July to September. The shoreline includes beautiful beaches with decadent resorts. Muscat is the capital of Oman with about 1.3 million inhabitants.
In the morning we took a free shuttle from the ship about ten minutes into town where the souk or market is located. The souk has been here for about 350 years although it is quite modern today. The market is extremely large with different alleyways dedicated to a particular product. There is the gold section, the clothing section, the tailor section, the housewares section, etc. Kent had his eye on a gold colored elephant with colorful rhinestones but had a difficult time finding one for the two-and-a-half Omani Riyal he had in his pocket. One Omani Riyal is approximately $2.85. We found an Internet café where we could check emails and post some blog updates for one Riyal.
After lunch back onboard the Rotterdam we took an afternoon tour with high tea at the Al Bustan Palace, now a Ritz Carlton hotel, but once the Sultan’s Palace. The seventh floor is still reserved for the private use of the royal family. The lobby is very ornate with high ceilings, ornate grillwork on the walls and ceiling, crystal chandeliers, fresh flowers and orchids and lovely furnishings. Tea was served on large coffee tables between a pair of sofas. Accompanying the tea were two three-tiered serving trays filled with an assortment of scones, mini sandwiches, cakes, and goat cheese balls coated with chopped pistachios and chocolates. A male harpist played while we enjoyed tea and the smell of Frankincense burning permeated the air.
After tea we took a brief walk through the hotel’s shopping arcade and out to the gorgeous grounds with palm trees, swimming pool and white sand beach. The grounds are beautifully manicured and maintained. The hotel was fully booked so we were unable to see a room. This is the tourist season while the weather is tolerable. When summer arrives the temperatures can soar to over 50-degrees Celsius.
Our next stop on the tour was to visit the exterior of one of the Sultan’s seven palaces around the country. This enormous palace in Muscat is seldom used however it does have a large wing for guests of the royal family and another wing for the parliament. The sidewalks are paved in polished granite and beautiful gardens and wrought iron gates surround the palace.
The local men all wear simple one-piece garments similar to a robe from the shoulders down to the floor. They are beautifully clean, fairly tight fitting, usually in white and well pressed. The local women mostly wear black one-piece garments and many have their heads partially or fully covered under some type of scarf.
The town is extremely clean and well maintained. The streets are well paved, there is a beautiful pedestrian sidewalk around the shoreline with statuary, and you see colorful planted flowers along the streets. Most of the buildings are only a few stories tall. You find older neighborhoods around the area where the souk is located and as you drive away from the heart of town you find much newer construction of single family styled houses. The buildings are all painted white or light shades of beige as regulated by the government. Our guide told us that the city is so clean because the government can fine you if your home or car is not kept clean and well maintained.
We were in port until 11:00pm so there was no regular evening entertainment in the showroom. However at 11:00pm there was an Indonesian Crew Show performed by the Indonesian crew mostly from the dining room stewards and cabin attendants onboard. In a couple of weeks it will be time for the Pilipino crew show. They appeared to have a good time entertaining the passengers and showing them some of the local dances from their country. They work long hours seven days a week so they have little time to rehearse.